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A paradise called Galapagos





Images courtesy of Planet D





EVOLUTION TRANSFORMS THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

By ARMAND RODRIGUES

 

So you think that because you have been to the National Parks or wildlife habitats in places like Africa, Madagascar, Australia, Indonesia, India or Brazil, you have seen it all.  Think again.  In all these, animals are as afraid of humans as humans are of them.

In stark contrast, the Galapagos Islands have spawned amazing creatures that show no fear of man, and getting within touching distance of each other, comes with the territory.

Since the archipelago belongs to ECUADOR, it is fitting to use it as a launching pad en route. Ecuador is one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world.  It is the only place on earth where the Equator crosses high peaks – the Andes.  Indians were the original inhabitants and could to trace their ancestry back 8,000 to 3,500 B.C.

Choco and Tumbesian in Ecuador are the world’s only two endemic (found nowhere else on earth) bird sanctuaries.  Roses, like bananas, are a vital export from Ecuador. It is a relief to find that the American dollar is the local currency and that the money hassles elsewhere in South America, are obviated.  Anybody that knows headgear knows that the world-famous Panama Hat originated in Ecuador.  The country has a large percentage of the world’s land vertebrates (mammals, birds, bats, reptiles), fish species and plants.  Canada helped build a new airport in Quito, is involved in oil exploration in its Amazon basin, and can be proud of the organ in the La Compania de Jesus church in Quito.

Landing in QUITO, one soon realizes that it could deliver four seasons in a day. It is the second highest capital in the world (after La Paz in Bolivia).  At an altitude of 2800 metres above sea level, the gods may bestow initiation rites of nausea, headaches and shortness of breath, on some lowland visitors.  After a couple of shots of “chicha” or “canelazo”, Pacha Mama (God) is appeased. The city is only 22 km south of the Equator or “Mitad del Mundo” (half of the world).  From La Plaza de la Independencia in its main square, historical churches, palaces, monasteries, museums, restaurants, are easy to explore.   For a birds-eye-view of the city and surrounding peaks and valleys, a ride on the TeleferiQo (cable car) lofts one up the side of Pichincha volcano, for a spectacular view.

Ninety kilometres from Quito, along the undulating and picturesque countryside, is OTAVALO. On the way, is Calderon, a village noted for its artistic bread-dough creations.  Otavalo itself is the largest indigenous open market in Ecuador. The locals wear colourful traditional attire.  The sights and smells of fruit, vegetables, spices, roast pig or chicken, permeate the air. The stalls are replete with handmade tapestry, rugs, bags, leather goods, embroidered goods, local artwork, and other knock-offs, which induce impulse buying, after an expected haggling session.  Cotapaxi, the highest volcano in the world, is within striking distance. The San Pablo crater lake in the foothills of the Imbabura volcano is nearby and worth a visit.  I would be remiss if I did not mention that eating at 300-year old Hacienda (Estate) Pinasaqui, and at El Crater – the only hotel in the world on the rim of a volcanic crater --- are memorable experiences.

A thousand kilometres from the mainland, in the vast expanse of the Pacific, lies the GALAPAGOS archipelago.  These scattered volcanic islands, within a 45,000 sq.km. Marine Reserve, are between 4 and 10 million years old and straddle the Equator. They constitute a vibrant crucible of life unmatched anywhere else in the world.  In the genesis of this most-volcanic milieu on earth, each island has its pre-historic character, where eruptions below the crust are constant.  Somewhat alarming is the fact that the islands are moving an inch or two towards the south-east, every year.  Cut-off from the rest of the world, with inter-island isolation and no natural predators, wildlife has morphed into abnormal sizes and become utterly fearless and unique.  All islands have both English and Spanish names.

In 1535, the Bishop of Panama, Fray Tomas de Berlanger, drifted off course from Panama to Peru, and “discovered” the islands, purely by accident.  Previously, buccaneers, pirates, sealers and whalers used the islands as a casual base. The islands provided them sheltered anchorage, firewood and fresh food. Thousands of giant tortoises were caught and stacked alive on their ships, for a year or more, and used as a source of fresh meat.  As Charles Darwin discovered in 1835, the islands are a living museum and laboratory of evolution. His thesis on “The origin of Species” is profound.

Bipeds and quadrupeds are part of the 1900 species of endemic flora and fauna found here, with a preponderance of some on particular islands.  Fur seals, sea lions, iguanas and Sally Lightfoot crabs seem to be everywhere.  Penguins, albatrosses, petrels, pelicans, boobies, frigate birds, gulls, herons, egrets, flamingoes, ducks, oyster-catchers, stilts and flightless cormorants, are resident sea birds. Migrant birds include sandpipers, plovers, tattlers, and Franklin gulls.  Resident land birds are hawks, rails, doves, owls, mockingbirds, warblers and a variety of finches. A diversity of whales and dolphins visit the islands, while fish of every description are perennial residents.  Reptiles include giant tortoises (up to 600 lbs), sea turtles, cold-blooded marine iguanas and lava lizards. At night, one can spot sharks and other marine creatures circling the ship moored well offshore.  90-year old “Lonesome George” was the only surviving tortoise of his species but has since died.  Of course, there are no guarantees of what you may see on any given landing.  Plants, lava rocks and boulders are about the only immovable objects. Over the years, a few humans have found domicile on a couple of islands.  As has happened elsewhere in the world, introduced animals like goats, dogs, cats and rats, became feral and caused havoc on some islands.  The park authorities enlisted the help of New Zealand helicopter “cowboys” to cull goats in particular. A collared billy, with horns painted, became the “Judas” goat that led the hunters to the flocks and helped cleanse the islands.

Small, self-contained cruise vessels --- 100 passengers or less – are the preferred means of island hopping.  Zodiacs (called Pangas) take you from ship to shore. Without docks, a wet or dry landing becomes necessary, in eight visitor sites in five days.  In a wet landing, one steps out of a Zodiac sideways, into the water when the crashing tide is receding and wades ashore.  A dry landing entails clambering up uneven lava boulders while keeping one’s equilibrium. The whole experience is aptly called an expedition.  You soon find yourself in a pristine and irregular volcanic terrain, with a mandatory Naturalist/chaperone keeping you in line on a narrowly defined path. Rain can turn some paths into a slip-sliding, bog, which cakes one’s footwear in gooey mud.  Walking and walking and walking, comes with the territory.

Bartolome island is an exception when it comes to being above ground. It has a steep boardwalk with 1300 steps leading to the top of a cone. The oppressive heat and rarified air at the top only acerbate fatigue.  But the reward is the breathtaking views in all directions, with Pinnacle Rock taking pride of place. For the more adventurous, snorkelling (equipment provided) is an option, while landlubbers can keep dry in a glass-bottomed boat. On Santa Cruz island, two deep pit craters called “Los Gemelos”, are a must-see sight.  So also are the lava tunnels.

A degree of fitness and endurance are essential to cope.  Also, with no restrooms around, bladder control is crucial. Other than water, participants are not allowed to carry any food or fruit, or to smoke.  Once committed to a particular hike, turning back is not an option. Conservation measures are strictly enforced.  Plastic bags and water bottles have to be taken back to the mainland for disposal.  Shoes and feet are hosed down on return from an island. Practising the highest levels of environmental stewardship is an indispensable prerequisite. 

This is an incomparable expedition that gets etched in one’s memory.

 

 

Copyright @ arodrigues


Days gone by in Kenya

 






My old mate, Mick Parry, from our days together on the Daily Nation, (Many of you will  remember him also from his days at the East African Standard, especially his coverage of the East African Safari and other stories) has asked me to share this memory:

A look back in time… the Mombasa road sometime in 1963 and four young men are heading back to Nairobi. Probably the beer we drank was warm – we did not know much about ice coldies back then. Somewhere along the memorable track that was the link between capital to coast, we stopped for a pee break and, as someone with a camera, I propped the wonky Waltzflex in a position to capture us all. Call us Kenya cowboys but the hats from some Mombasa market give us a Mexican look!

 Almost 60 years have passed since that moment but, thanks to the magic of film, it can be looked at again and can recapture memories of youth. Sadly, I am the only survivor. That’s me on the left. My Kenya mates have all passed on – Jeff and Vic Baronet and Willie Alexander are gone, but only in spirit. This week marks the anniversary of Jeff’s death – a suitable time to remember old friends.

Had he lived, and not died in 1997, Jeff would have been 81, which seems rather strange today. He is best remembered by reversing those numbers – to the good-looking teenager of 18. Jeff lived his best years as a young man and it is good to remember him as wild and dashing, fun-loving and kind, as ready for a scrap, as he was for a drink. Those heady days would soon be calmed for me with marriage and, with Kenya’s independence, most school mates moved from Kenya.

I caught up with Jeff in Shropshire in 1985 and had a great night with him and brothers Charlie and Dennis. He drove me to the station the next morning and it was the last I saw of him. But the bond was there. Jeff and I were good mates, Willie befriended me at school at the Prince of Wales and was best man at my wedding. Vic was, let’s face it, Vic.

Those who knew him, have their own stories! Ironically, Vic was also a survivor and while Jeff died early, and Willie within the last eight years, the oldest of the Baronet brothers lived on until he was almost 80 when he died, in Poole in 2015. But it is back to those wonderful days of Kenya in the 50s and 60s that we look back today. Hell, we left school and straight into a job. We had money and friends and we absolutely knew we would live forever. Yes, an era long gone but cherished.

It is only now, six decades on, that we realise that time waits for no man or woman.  But who is complaining? We had a tremendous time and with friends like these, remembered here, the memories live on.


The Vanishing People of the Red Ochre

 

THE VANISHING PEOPLE

OF THE RED OCHRE

The ground is called laterite and is a clay which has been enriched with Iron and aluminium that has been developed over long periods of time by the heavy rainfalls and the intense heat. Sometimes the material is rock hard but when scuffed by vehicle wheels it becomes a choking red dust. The iron is the origin of the redness is a rusty colour. – Jack Hill.

 

FOR a long time, I have been writing and talking about our East African DNA. Most Europeans will tell you love of their love for their Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania history’s past is “in the blood.” I have always interpreted that the critical element in the DNA is red dust which we breathed in, swallowed it with the raging wind or soaked our bodies with it helped along by those gorgeous rains. I have always loved that red dust from as long as I can remember growing up, first in the city of Nairobi and then in semi-rural (to start with) Eastleigh and its neighbouring environs. We walked mostly barefoot and if had the tennis shoes on then was probably a hole in each sole and the cardboard pieces had moved. I can still taste that dust on my lips and in my hair.

 

I there are distinctly four types of non-African people and I will focus mainly on Kenya. 1. Those who chose to stay and have flourished. 2. Those who left begrudgingly but will never forget. Many return to Kenya regularly for a holiday or for a refill of familiar natural beauty, of life in miniature of days that used to be and being shrouded by the scents and aromas of familiar things and familiar places. They visit their former homes, rural properties and catch up with eternal friends who are also on the lists of the vanishing. They miss Kenya every day. They shout the loudest when they watch a Kenyan runner winning on TV. Why not? They will always by the white tribe of Kenya. 3. There are those who left and will never forgive the African for claiming back his country and making exiles of so many who had invested so much of their lives though first, second and third generations. 4. There are those who have cut the umbilical cord and have erased Kenya from all of their memory but bear no ill feelings towards anyone.

 

I am a child of the War years, WWII, that is. Already I have lost too many friends of my age group. In 20 years, I doubt if there will be anyone left who was born in the 1920s, unless they make it to 100. Along with them, we will lose some of those born in the 1930s and 1940s unless COVID takes them sooner.

 

In 40 years, there may not be anyone left who lived with us, grew up with us, worked with us, hunted and fished and picnicked and loved Kenya the way we did. It was always going to be the case of a broken-hearted melody.

 

Aha! I would hand over the collective works of our Kenya lives to the young adults (children of ex-Kenyan migrants of all colours) who live in Canada and have some idea about what their parents and grandparents’ lives were like in that distant poetic land. A few live in the UK and yet others are strewn all over the world, especially southern Africa. A few live in Kenya; once were children, now grandparents and basking in the twilight of their lives.

 

While I still have my marbles, I dedicate my next book: The Vanishing people of the Red Ochre to anyone who was born there lived there or even visited there and has never forgotten my Mother Country.

 

In the meanwhile, I will sing her song, dance her beat, drink her juices, tea and coffee, and sup on feasts that often seem only faint distant memories when we were once free with wind in our hair, gentle breezes (kindly ghosts of Kenyans who died long ago) caressing my cheeks and TV screen in my brain is alight with those awesome memories of the children of the red ochre growing up shrouded by my mother Kenya.

 

Tell me quickly, why you miss Kenya. My book will be published in a couple of months. God Bless.

 

 

 

 

 

Whatever you do spend a little time with sheer beauty

 NOT TO BE MISSED

We might not ever see all of these things in our lifetime if it were not for the Internet and photography.

Ceiling over St. Mary's Altar, Krakow , Poland

                                                   

                                      

 Corsica, France

 

 


Queen Victoria Clock in Chester, England 

 


Prague



Secluded beach Amalfi Coast, Italy 



 

River Seine, Paris 

 


Milan, zodiac sundial, 1768 created by the

Accademia di Brera -Summer solstice the rays strike

the bronze on the floor and for Winter solstice

it stretches to the meridian. 

 

Assos, Kefalonia Island, Greece 


 

Millau Viaduct, France

 


 

Switchback Mountain, Tianman Hwy, China

 


Lighthouse in Sunderland, England 


 

Gate opening to Lake Como, Northern Italy 


 

Astronomical clock, Prague, Czech Republic 


 

St. Petersburg, Russia, up close 


 

Pulpit Rock, Norway 



 

Sheeps Highway, Ireland


 


Dorset, England





 

Turquoise River, BC, Canada


 

Vinhedos do Douro, Portugal


 

Artic Cathedral, Norway 


 

Peles Castle, Romania


 

Underwater Roller Coaster in Japan (No, thank you!) 


 

Victoria Falls, Africa 


 

Ireland


 

The Kremlin, Russia 


 

Micheldever Wood, Hampshire, England 


 

Rocky village, Liguria, Italy 


 

Basque, Spain


 

Balls Pyramid off the Eastern coast of Australia


 

Massive Vietnam cave discovered in 2009 



 

Lightning on Eiffel Tower, Paris, France